04 November 2015

On the usefulness of index cards

It takes only a short time of living in Italy to realize that many things that we use on a regular basis in America are either extremely difficult to find or simply impossible.Take, as just one example, index cards. Whether they be 3"x5" or 5"x7", they simply do not exist in this country.

Shortly after I arrived in Italy two years ago, after several failed searches, I took an actual index card into several paper shops to ask if they sold any or knew where I could find any. The shop keepers looked intriguingly at the index card, turning it this way and that, clearly either impressed or confused at what they held in their hands, and maybe a bit of both. Either way, it was clear to me that they had never seen anything like an index card.

Now, anyone who has ever used index cards to take research notes knows just how extremely useful they are, both for organizing your thoughts and for serving as flash cards. When I was studying history at Quincy University, Dr. Thomas Mays introduced me to an ingenious method (probably in 1998) of taking notes on index cards that continues to serve as my primary method.

His method is very simple and especially useful for historical research. All you need is a 5"x7" index card, a ruler, and a marker. First, line the top edge of the ruler with the top edge of the index card and draw a line with the marker along the bottom of the index card. Second, line the top edge of the ruler along the left edge of the index card and draw a line with the marker along the bottom edge of the rule. You will end up with a card that looks like this:

This becomes your basic template; all you need do is repeat this method on as many note cards as you need.

The square formed in the upper left corner becomes the place to record the date and location of the noted event, if one applies. The rectangle formed at top right becomes the place to give a specific subject for the note. The rectangle formed at the bottom left becomes the place to briefly record the source and page number on which the note was found. The large rectangle formed at the bottom right becomes the space to record your note, being sure to be clear whether what you write is a direct quotation or merely a paraphrase. Here is an example:

Once you have completed your note cards, you can arrange them by date or subject, or even both. In this way, your paper is already organized and constructed before you even begin typing. The actual writing of the paper then simply flows from one card to the next.

The full citation for the source can be found by consulting a specific note card made for this purpose, for which I generally use a 3"x5" card (only so that do not accidentally get mixed up with the note cards), recording the details as they would be printed in a bibliography:

Notice that I have placed a brief reference at the bottom right of the card, which is used on the note cards. Because you may have more than one source by the same author, it becomes necessary to distinguish sources. For example, I have another book by Herbert Thurston at hand for this project, The Roman Jubilee: History and Ceremony (London: Sands & Co., 1925). As a brief citation for the note cards from this second source, I would simply use Thurston, Roman Jubilee, or even simply Thurston, R.J.; the choice is up to you.

Once your bibliography cards are in order, you can arrange them alphabetically by author. Then, just like the paper itself, compiling your bibliography becomes a simple matter of flipping index cards.

I bring this up only because I have decided that today is the today to begin preparing the cards on which the notes for my thesis research into the canonical age for the Sacrament of Confirmation in the present legislation will be recorded.

For some, this method of note taking seems archaic and they would rather take their notes on their computers. This is something that is not helpful for me as I prefer to have physical notes and enjoy the feeling of progress as I flip from one card to the next and watch the pile decrease.

1 comment:

  1. Next year I am writing our bishop- J Peter Sartain- to ask him to allow my then 12 year old to be allowed to be confirmed with my then 14 year old and then 16 year old.
    I've heard he has not denied one such request yet.
    And on yet another topic, have you heard the podcast "Catholic stuff you should know?
    You should check them out. One priest is from Illinois and brought up Effingham and it was as if two of my favorite online Catholic world's collided for a bit.
    The other priest is Byzantine and is bi-ritual so it's very neat to hear some of his points.